PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, February 2, 2015 (AMG) — With her embattled Attorney-General and her Minister of National Security accused of witness tampering in the midst of a critical election year for her coalition government, the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, forced the resignations of two senior Cabinet ministers, while taking the opportunity to announce sweeping changes across other cabinet portfolios.
In an address to the nation held this evening, Persad-Bissessar named Garvin Nicholas – an attorney and former Trinidad & Tobago High Commissioner to the United Kingdom – as the new Attorney General, following the resignation of Anand Ramlogan, who held the position since Bissessar’s People’s Partnership Administration came into power four and half years ago.
The Prime Minister asked for Ramlogan’s resignation following an imbroglio between him, Minister of National Security Gary Griffith and Director of the Police Complaints Authority, David West. Griffith has also tendered his resignation, while Persad-Bissessar has asked for West to resign or be removed by the country’s President.
The resignations came in light of allegations made by West, who claimed that Ramlogan asked him to withdraw a witness statement he made in a defamation lawsuit between the Ramlogan and Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. The lawsuit relates to comments made by Rowley concerning a failed extradition of Steve Ferguson and Ish Galbaransingh: two businessmen are wanted in the United States on a series of charges arising out of the construction of the Piarco Airport project.
West further claimed that Ramlogan offered him the post of PCA Director – to which he was appointed in November 2014 – in exchange for the withdrawal of his statement.
Griffith, Bissessar’s former Minister of National Security, was identified as a witness in West’s complaint. For his part, he claimed that Ramlogan tricked him into contacting West to follow up on whether he had withdrawn his statement, and that he had no knowledge of the details surrounding the communication between Ramlogan and West.
In her speech this evening, the Prime Minister said that her decision to revoke the appointments was based on the fact that the three men compromised the positions they held.
“I will not sit idly by while the office of Minister of National Security, the Attorney General and the PCA are compromised. These office holders cannot remain in those positions”, she said.
She stressed that no one brought the matters to her attention earlier, and that all the information submitted thereafter by the respective parties seemed in conflict. She also questioned the timeliness of Mr. West’s complaint, wondering why it had not been raised earlier.
In a move that was lampooned by many as a deflection tactic, the Prime Minister further appeared to imply that Opposition Leader Rowley may have had a role to play in the timing of West’s accusation, as she questioned whether the revelations were a “deliberate attempt to hoodwink the Prime Minister and the President.”
The latest political fracas is inconvenient for the People’s Partnership government, which faces the polls in a national election due this year.
In a move which political observers have described as an attempt to score political mileage out of her latest Cabinet scandal, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to remove several other members of her government.
In addition to Ramlogan and Griffith, Persad-Bissessar revoked the appointments of Rupert Griffith, Minister of Sport; Stacey Roopnarine, Minister in the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure; Emanuel George, Minister of Justice; Timothy Hamel Smith, Senate President; and Embau Moheni, Minister in the Ministry of National Security.
The Prime Minister also stepped down as Minister of the Ministry of the People and Social Development.
Former national footballer Brent Sancho now leads the Ministry of Sport, while Kwasi Matuma, deputy political leader of the National Joint Action Committee (which forms the People’s Partnership Government) is now Minister in the Ministry of Works.
Prakash Ramadhar, who also carries the portfolio of Minister of Legal Affairs, is Minister of Justice, while Christine Newallo-Hosein, who was the advisor to Mrs. Persad-Bissessar at the Ministry of People and Social Development, will now take the helm.
Investigations are continuing into the allegations of witness tampering bedeviling the former Attorney-General.